Second staircase can be built from scratch or a kit

Dear James:

I am totally remodeling an older house I just purchased. I want to add a second staircase from the kitchen to the bedrooms for the children to use. Can I purchase do-it-yourself kits for this?

— Barb L.

Dear Barb:

Installing a second staircase to the second floor is becoming more common in new construction and when remodeling older homes. It will consume quite a bit of floor space, particularly on the first floor, so make sure the resulting room sizes will still be functional.

It is possible to build the staircase from scratch or there are staircase and handrail kits available. Which option you select will depend upon your carpentry skills, your financial budget and your time constraints. Building any project from scratch is most satisfying, but installing a preassembled staircase kit is the option most homeowners select.

Installing a staircase is a unique project in that the workmanship must be nearly perfect. The height and size of each stair must be identical. If one is just slightly higher or lower than the rest of them, someone will surely stumble. Also, if the staircase is not adequately solid, there will always be a squeaky step or two.

You should be able to order preassembled staircase kits at your home center. If you cannot find any, contact the following companies: AJ Stairways, Duvinage, Mylen Stairs, and Stepstone.

These companies will make the staircase kit to your height and width specifications, with the height being most critical. They have to know the exact vertical distance between the first-floor and second-floor surfaces in order to determine how high each step must be. They will select the number of stairs to determine the most common stair height to which you will quickly become accustomed.

It is best to wait until you have the final flooring on both floors so you are certain of the finished vertical measurement. If you want to install the staircase earlier in the project, perhaps for access to subsequent second-floor projects, precisely determine the thickness of the finished flooring and add this to the height measurement.

In an older house, the walls and floors may have settled and are likely no longer true. In order to get an accurate vertical measurement between the floors, use a laser level positioned at the second floor’s finished height. Project the laser beam along the wall and measure the height directly above where the first floor steps will begin.

When the preassembled staircase is delivered, two or three people should be able to install it. It is critical for you to follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly. With the way they will be assembled, if you miss a support piece, it may be difficult to get back to it once other pieces are glued, nailed or screwed in place.

Installing the handrail properly is also important. Nothing makes this job seem homemade more than a wobbly handrail. It can also make someone lose their balance and stumble. The heavy newel posts at the top and bottom support the handrail. The balusters spaced in between them are basically just for aesthetics. Carefully install the large dowel rods that attach the newel posts to the floor.•

Send your questions to Here’s How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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